Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic 2

Luke 14:7-11: Now [Jesus] told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You might think that, given that this is a teaching of Jesus, this type of thing would be axiomatic. Disciples of Christ should just understand that they should behave this way. In any event, putting yourself in a place that’s higher than you ought to be is a bad thing.

In discussing The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic, one verse that I’ve singled out over the years is 1 Timothy 3:15. Paul says to Timothy, I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness …

This is a verse that appears in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, in the following context:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,…
Rome takes a verse that has nothing to do with Rome – and is putting itself at the head of a table, so to speak, to which it has not been invited. That is, Paul is speaking to Timothy and the role which he is reminding the elders that Timothy will appoint: “Tell these leaders that their behavior at the head of the church is what supports the truth of the Gospel that we preach”.

In simple English, it is clear here that the phrase “the church of the living God” is a mere modifier of “the household of the living God”. A subsequent question for the exegete is, to what does the phrase “a pillar and buttress of the truth” refer?

In a discussion of 1 Tim 3:15, Pete Holter makes this comment below:
In terms of 1 Timothy 3:15, all I’m saying is that “the Church of the living God” is the pillar and foundation of the Truth, and that “how one ought to behave” is not the pillar and foundation of Truth. I’m also saying that the members of the Church are not the full concept of Church in this verse, but are in the Church as being members of something that is larger than themselves. I do not deny that our moral life lends credibility to our truth claims, but I am denying that Paul is calling our moral lives “a pillar and buttress of truth” in this verse.
Consider that the concept of “something that is larger than themselves”, which Pete introduces (and which Rome introduced first) does not appear anywhere in sight.

In the original article to which I had linked, I had provided extensive documentation of exegesis of this verse. Exactly what is it that is the “pillar and buttress of the truth”? The Protestant exegete George Knight, after a thorough analysis of the Greek text, says “Timothy and the church will conduct their lives appropriately if they remember that they are the home built and owned by God and indwelt by him as the living one, and also remember that they are called on to undergird and hold aloft God’s truth in word and deed.” (182)

The Roman Catholic commentator L.T. Johnson says, “The issue for the translator is not the meaning of the terms [“pillar and buttress”], but their referent.” What’s important is what they are referring to. And he says, the particular construction he sees – “pillar and buttress” refer back to the phrase “how one ought to behave”. “Are “pillar and support” to be read as in apposition to “church of the living God” or in delayed apposition to “how it is necessary to behave”? Such a delayed appositional phrase [already] appears elsewhere in the letter (1:7). 1 Tim 1:7 says “Certain persons, by swerving from these [“love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”], have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” So Johnson provides grammatical, structural case for what he is saying.

But he also is careful to align the message with other messages within Paul’s writings in general. He says, “It also makes better sense of the metaphorical point: the community is the oikos, and the members should behave so as to be supports and pillars for it. Such an understanding fits Paul’s other use of stylos [“pillars”] for leaders of the Jerusalem community in Gal 2:9.”

This message coheres even more broadly with such New Testament concepts as Matt 5:16 “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” and James 2:18: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works”. The good behavior that you exhibit in the household of God, the good behavior exhibited by “the church”, is what supports “the truth”.

Philip Towner, whose commentary on this letter is perhaps the most recent, takes this conclusion more thoroughly, and he concludes his discussion of these verses saying, “the imagery here is not designed to present the church as a permanent historical institution in the world …. It is, however, permanence in the sense of the assurance of immovability that comes through God’s promise (cf. 2 Tim 2:20); this immovability is the mark of the new people of God, and it assures the church that apostasy and heresy will not bring the church to ruin. ”

Towner says that the imagery of permanence assured because God rules in the world: “the fulfillment of God’s plan for the church in history and eternity is assured because of his promises.”

On the other hand, it is characteristic of Roman Catholicism to simply hijack this verse, and to claims that Rome’s own church governmental structure is what’s in view here – a hierarchical church structure whose sole mission it is to provide some form of doctrinal protection.

It is so important to note that Rome isn’t in the original verse. But Rome wants to place itself squarely between Christ and the believer everywhere it can, and it has in fact created official policies of looking for ways to inject itself in there. Rome wants Rome to be “the pillar and buttress of the truth”. In doing so, it has taken a place of honor that it was not given. This is a usurpation and a self-exaltation on Rome’s part, taking a place to which it was not invited.

(Note: Pete emailed me last night that he had consulted Knight's commentary, which said, "I took a look at George Knight’s work and noticed that he says that “The house/church of God is further described with the structural terms… Here Paul describes the Church as the as the pillar or column”, etc. (The Pastoral Epistles: A commentary on the Greek Text, pg. 181). This would mean that Knight sees “pillar and support” in apposition with “the household of God” and “the Church of the living God,” and not with “how one ought to behave.” With that said, Knight's conclusion, as I reported it above, ("they are called on to undergird and hold aloft God’s truth in word and deed") still stands. The larger point I am making here, however, is that even if it refers to "the church" as "pillar and foundation", "the church" is "the local church" with leaders and members. And it is "by their behavior" that they "support" the truth. This analysis goes on for pages and pages, in all of these works, and it is difficult to convey all the aspects of everything that everyone is saying.

But my point is, Rome interjects its hierarchy, where it does not belong, and it falsely leads people to believe that the Roman hierarchy is "the pillar and support" simply because of some supposed "commission" of Christ to "direct with authority", and somehow, to be "infallible" because of this. Rome places itself at the head of a table where it has not been invited.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi John!

    Let me try to recap…

    At this point in the discussion, I think that you and I are agreed that Luke Johnson is the only one advocating for the delayed apposition of “pillar and buttress of the truth” with “how one ought to behave.”

    I had also mentioned that Towner says that “In this context, Paul seems to be thinking of the church in universal terms.” I had said that I think that he’s right, and I pointed out that we can look to 1 Corinthians 15:9 and Galatians 1:13 for examples of this usage. You indicated that you don’t have a problem with what Towner says here either.

    I asked you if your objection would be removed if Lumen Gentium were translated in the following way:

    “This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, erected for all ages as the pillar and mainstay of the truth (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15), and which He commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority.”

    What do you think?

    The original request I had made was for an example to substantiate your claim that “the Roman Catholic Church does not ‘teach correctly about the Word of God.’ ” You had given 1 Timothy 3:15 as your example and Lumen Gentium as the place where this verse was being misused.

    The current state of the discussion makes me hope that perhaps Lumen Gentium’s use of 1 Timothy 3:15 has been exhonerated in your eyes, where it identifies the one Church of Christ as the pillar and foundation of the truth. I hope, I hope! :) Whether the Church of Christ has connections with the current Bishop of Rome would be another question, and I think that all of us would be agreed that this is not decided by an appeal to 1 Timothy 3:15.

    Have a blessed day everyone!

    In Christ,